I've had the pleasure of working with more than 3,000 female entrepreneurs over the last 10 years. During this time, I've recognized a pattern of challenges new entrepreneurs tend to struggle with. These challenges tend not to result from lack of skills or access to capital; rather, they are matters of mindset and approach. Thus, they can be avoided.
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Here are seven common mistakes that I've seen female entrepreneurs make:
1. Waiting to Launch a Business Because You Don't Have a Perfect Business Plan Yet
Of course you need a plan, but I find that many women delay launching because their business plan just isn't perfect. Unless you are seeking funding from a bank or equity investor, you don't need a traditional 30-40 page business plan.
There are many simple tools on the market you can use to craft a solid starting plan. One of my favorites is the Lean Canvas.
2. Trying to Be All Things to All People
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I go to a lot of events, and because I like to help connect people, I often ask my new contacts, "Who is your target customer?" Interestingly enough, the majority of entrepreneurs fumble this question. They cannot succinctly articulate a realistic target market. One particularly egregious example was when a woman who sold skincare products told me her target market was "anyone who has skin"! That's not a target market! If you're trying to be all things to all people, you'll be remembered for nothing!
3. Not Asking for Help
I can't tell you how many times I've heard someone say something along the lines of, "I have a business degree! I should know how to do this!"
It's okay to ask for help! I have an MBA, and 99 percent of what I handle as a business owner I did not learn in school. You will never know everything there is to know about running a business. Get out of your spare bedroom and find a local community of entrepreneurs. Surrounding yourself with like-minded people is critical to business success. Local chapters of SCORE and small business development centers (SBDCs) are great places to start. You should also try connecting with others on a daily basis, and coworking spaces are great places to do that.
4. Not Knowing Your Numbers
This issue is twofold. You must first put together logical projections for at least your first year of business. It doesn't have to be complex or fancy, just a month-by-month forecast of income and expenses. Then, you must hold yourself accountable to these numbers every month.
If you're anything like me, you would rather focus on marketing or customer interaction than on setting up a solid accounting system, but if you don't keep track of your numbers on a monthly or even weekly basis, you will almost certainly fail.
5. Working in Your Business Instead of on Your Business
Building on the prior point, many solo entrepreneurs spend all their time doing the work, but they fail to take time to work on their businesses. It can be hard to see the forest for the trees, but you have to stop and reevaluate every once in a while. I typically carve out 8-10 hours each week for business development, self-development, and strategic planning. If I don't block this time, I find myself in the vortex of answering emails, which is reactive instead of proactive.
6. Not Building Your Tribe
Entrepreneurship is very challenging. It can be isolating and lonely. One study found a link between higher rates of mental health concerns and entrepreneurship, with more than one-third of participants reporting depression and anxiety issues.
Women are collaborative creatures. We're natural community-builders, which is why the isolation of entrepreneurship can be particularly challenging for us. You have to surround yourself with like-minded people. Find a mastermind group, meetup, or industry group to meet with on a regular basis. You must give yourself an outlet to discuss challenges and seek support.
7. Not Building Clear Boundaries
As an entrepreneur, building boundaries between yourself and your business is key. Seeing business decisions as just that — decisions about business, not personal matters — will help you cultivate a healthy sense of self.
It's easy to stretch yourself too thin when launching a business. Learning to say "no" is essential to staying focused. When asked to donate time, money, or resources that I am unable to give, I like to reframe "no" as "I don't." Saying "I can't help" or "I can't do that" sounds more like an opinion, and that can lead to people pressuring you to commit when you truly cannot.
My hope is that if you learn about these common mistakes, you'll be able to avoid them in your own entrepreneurial journey.
Has something stood in your way of successfully getting your business off the ground? Share your experience and advice in the comments!